David Suzuki: Pipeline spills are good for the economy

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      Energy giant Kinder Morgan was recently called insensitive for pointing out that “Pipeline spills can have both positive and negative effects on local and regional economies, both in the short- and long-term.” The company wants to triple its shipping capacity from the Alberta tar sands to Burnaby, in part by twinning its current pipeline. Its National Energy Board submission states, “Spill response and cleanup creates business and employment opportunities for affected communities, regions, and cleanup service providers.”

      It may seem insensitive, but it’s true. And that’s the problem. Destroying the environment is bad for the planet and all the life it supports, including us. But it’s often good for business. The 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico added billions to the U.S. gross domestic product! Even if a spill never occurred (a big “if”, considering the records of Kinder Morgan and other pipeline companies), increasing capacity from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels a day would go hand-in-hand with rapid tar sands expansion and more wasteful, destructive burning of fossil fuelsas would approval of Enbridge Northern Gateway and other pipeline projects, as well as increased oil shipments by rail.

      The company will make money, the government will reap some tax and royalty benefits and a relatively small number of jobs will be created. But the massive costs of dealing with a pipeline or tanker spill and the resulting climate change consequences will far outweigh the benefits. Of course, under our current economic paradigm, even the costs of responding to global warming impacts show as positive growth in the GDP — the tool we use to measure what passes for progress in this strange worldview.

      And so it’s full speed ahead and damn the consequences. Everything is measured in money. B.C.’s economy seems sluggish? Well, obviously, the solution is to get fracking and sell the gas to Asian markets. Never mind that a recent study, commissioned by the Canadian government, concludes we don’t know enough about the practice to say it’s safe, the federal government has virtually no regulations surrounding it and provincial rules “are not based on strong science and remain untested.” Never mind that the more infrastructure we build for polluting, climate-disrupting fossil fuels, the longer it will take us to move away from them. There’s easy money to be had—for someone.

      We need to do more than just get off fossil fuels, although that’s a priority. We need to conserve, cut back and switch to cleaner energy sources. In Canada, we need a national energy strategy. And guess what? That will create lasting jobs! But we must also find better ways to run our societies than relying on rampant consumption, planned obsolescence, excessive and often-pointless work and an economic system that depends on damaging ways and an absurd measurement to convince us it somehow all amounts to progress.

      It’s not about going back to the Dark Ages. It’s about realizing that a good life doesn’t depend on owning more stuff, scoring the latest gadgets or driving bigger, faster cars. Our connections with family, friends, community, and nature are vastly more important.

      Yes, we need oil and gas, and will for some time. Having built our cities and infrastructure to accommodate cars rather than people, we can’t turn around overnight. But we can stop wasting our precious resources. By conserving and switching to cleaner energy, we can ensure we still have oil and gas long into the future, perhaps long enough to learn to appreciate the potential of what’s essentially energy from the sun, stored and compressed over millions of years. If we dig it up and sell it so it can be burned around the world, we consign ourselves to a polluted planet ravaged by global warming, with nothing to fall back on when fossil fuels are gone.

      Scientists around the world have been warning us for decades about the consequences of our wasteful lifestyles, and evidence for the ever-increasing damage caused by pollution and climate change continues to grow. But we have to do more than just wean ourselves off fossil fuels. We must also look to economic systems, progress measurements and ways of living that don’t depend on destroying everything the planet provides to keep us healthy and alive.




      Jun 10, 2014 at 7:47pm

      It's a lost cause. Most people don't even save for their own retirement let alone think about future environmental repercussions. Bring together smart minds and an astronomic amount of money at the same table. Good ethics and honesty...poof. Present them with Suzuki's story of a community living happily ever after and a picture of a Lamborghini. These decision-making ivy league educated execs will pick the Lambo like a child homes in to its mamma teat. GDP is god and oil spills help, like heart disease helps, like mass shootings...all help to possess shiny knick-knacks now. Blind greed, selfishness seems drilled into our DNA - at least it is with our successful business and political elites. Just live your one life stress free before checking out. That's what the "smart ones" do.


      Jun 11, 2014 at 2:29am

      Living in Saudi Arabia as an expat Canadian I see the problem more clearly. There are hundreds of thousands of cars here on the road here unnecessarily. They range from the 100 metre drive to the store to buy cigarettes to joy rides that have no purpose at all. with the cost of gasoline at 22 cents US a litre people here don't know and don't care about the impact of fossil fuels on the environment. Even if Countries in the developed world save their environment these countries here will negate the effort. Global warming will continue I'm afraid until we are burnt to a crisp then the world will go back to normal.


      Jun 11, 2014 at 6:03am

      When did greed and selfishness become a virtue? Oh wait that only happens to assholes.

      out at night

      Jun 11, 2014 at 10:07am

      Heartbreaking though it may be, it's hard to seriously refute the "we're fucked" argument.

      On the other hand, it feels right to be an eco warrior so that's what I'll continue to be. Giving in to despair and surrendering to the Kinders and the Morgans isn't in me. Vainglorious, quixotic, romantic? Yes, or, well, maybe, but... fuck 'em!

      Begging for an massive Asteroid one day to finish us off..

      Jun 11, 2014 at 10:53am

      Good for Business, yet not good for the planet or life...

      Really hope a huge Asteroid finishes us off so Earth can start over again. We don't deserve this place.

      Ben Sili

      Jun 11, 2014 at 10:54am

      David framed the problem smartly: going to the Dark Ages won't get you any support so talking about family, friends, community, not owning more stuff like an $8 million Kits house among others, gadgets etc... has more chance to make energy restriction, green police and delation much, much more marketable to unsuspecting population.